Military radio communications designers need to build a better mouse trap

By John Keller

Posted by John Keller

SAN DIEGO -- Military radio designers need to give more thought to how they blend RF and microwave components with digital circuitry in new generations of software-defined radio , says one of the Pentagon's top communications executives.

The problem revolves around radio designs that tightly couple the RF section and digital sections. This can slow down design and production, and create huge headaches when it comes to technology insertion and systems upgrades, says Dr. Ron Jost, the DOD's deputy assistant secretary of defense for C3.

"Please don't tightly couple the RF to the digital sections in the radio," Jost said today in a keynote address at the Military & Aerospace Electronics Forum (MAEF) conference and trade show in San Diego. "The RF won't change much; it's the digital that will change."

In the interests of full disclosure, I need to point out that the MAEF is sponsored by Military & Aerospace Electronics magazine.

Jost told MAEF attendees that digital circuitry goes obsolete very quickly -- as often as once a year -- and tightly coupling the RF to digital often is problematic.

Instead, Jost suggests that radio designers create more modular communications architectures where digital circuitry easily can be swapped out as it goes obsolete, but that leaves the longer-lasting RF and microwave sections alone.

Evidently this is among the reasons that the Pentagon's Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS) program is in trouble.

Radio designs are not the only problems facing the Pentagon's communications planners, Jost points out. Senior Defense Department planers are well along in network management , yet what they need now is spectrum management . He's asking for the defense industry's help to do this.

"We are going to put together a complete spectrum-management tool and network-management tool for the Department of Defense, and we need your guys's help," Jost told MAEF attendees this morning. "The warfighter can't do it with what we're giving him today."

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The Mil & Aero Bloggers

John Keller is editor-in-chief of Military & Aerospace Electronics magazine, which provides extensive coverage and analysis of enabling electronic and optoelectronic technologies in military, space, and commercial aviation applications. A member of the Military & Aerospace Electronics staff since the magazine's founding in 1989, Mr. Keller took over as chief editor in 1995.

Ernesto Burden is the publisher of PennWell’s Aerospace & Defense Media Group, including Military & Aerospace Electronics, Avionics Intelligence and Avionics Europe.  He’s a father of four, a runner, and an avid digital media enthusiast with a deep background in the intersection of media publishing, digital technology, and social media. He can be reached at ernestob@pennwell.com and on Twitter @aero_ernesto.

Courtney E. Howard, as executive editor, enjoys writing about all things electronics and avionics in PennWell’s burgeoning Aerospace and Defense Group, which encompasses Military & Aerospace Electronics, Avionics Intelligence, the Avionics Europe conference, and much more. She’s also a self-proclaimed social-media maven, mil-aero nerd, and avid avionics geek. Connect with Courtney at Courtney@Pennwell.com, @coho on Twitter, and on LinkedIn.

Mil & Aero Magazine

December 2013
Volume 24, Issue 12
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